I have to admit, I picked this book out because of the title; it tickles me to read it in public with a contemplative face.
Anyway, it is not actually a self-help book, but as you might guess, Marta is a “good wife.” She cleans, prepares dinner for her husband, and takes care of all things domestic so that her husband does not need to worry himself with such concerns. However, Marta has recently stopped taking her pills (the actual reason for medication is left vague) and has begun seeing brief visions of a blonde girl. As time goes on, the visions become stronger and more overwhelming, to the point where Marta’s reality is blurred between present events and these hallucinations.
How To Be a Good Wife turns out to be a book within the book, given to Marta by her mother-in-law as a wedding gift. It contains such timeless gems as: “Clear away any untidiness. Catering to his comfort will give you an immense sense of personal satisfaction,” and, my favorite, “Let him talk first. Remember that his topics of conversation are more important than yours.” On their own, the quotes from this fictitious book are mostly just obnoxious and misogynistic (and prove that I will never be a good wife by these standards). However, the use of these snippets, never more than two sentences long at a time and interspersed throughout the narration, make them become chillingly menacing. The book itself started off slow, but the gradual build-up of Marta’s silent helplessness was really well-done, in part because of the use of these awful quotes.
Some vague spoilers from this point on, because damn it, I want to talk about them and no, I will not let you talk first.
I guessed pretty early on that the blonde girl of her visions were younger versions of Marta and the visions were actually memories, but her background story however remained fairly fragmented and elusive until the big reveal, so there was still enough suspense to keep me going.
The resolution that I expected never came. On one hand, kudos to the author for not taking the obvious route of championing her character into a somewhat happier ending. On the other hand, her ending is much more disturbing. Marta’s background story itself is fairly scary but I think it is scarier that no one believed her and that sense of helplessness just got worse and worse, as she’s locked up in a psychiatric facility and labeled as delusional and imbalanced. I think the author wanted to inject some sense of ambiguity into the story to make readers question whether she was possibly an unreliable and hallucinating narrator whose paranoid story exists only in her head. While I like that added element, I think it partially fails because the first person point of view made me much more biased to Marta’s side than the one or two hints that maybe there was another explanation. I think the ending was supposed to be full of meaning and represent a final freedom, but instead I was just depressed that everyone rejected Marta’s perspective (and listened instead to her husband, the perpetrator) and that even if she was crazy, no one addressed her needs in a way that wasn’t demeaning and controlling.
Although it was a good book in terms of the psychological thriller, I spent more time bummed out by the subject matter and the “good wife” undertones and helplessness throughout the book than actually following the plot.